Ted McKinney doesn’t let grass grow under his feet. The Tipton farm boy who led the Indiana State Department of Agriculture as director before resigning to serve as a USDA undersecretary for trade has new challenges. He is now CEO for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, better known as NASDA.
After USDA and before NASDA, he assisted behind the scenes with preparations for the United Nations Food Systems Summit, held in 2021. “Agriculture absolutely needs to be represented in discussions and conferences, and I was happy to play a small role,” McKinney says. He now resides with his wife, Julie, in Alexandria, Va.
Looking for irony? More than two decades ago, McKinney played a key role, again behind the scenes, in facilitating the move of the National FFA Center from Alexandria, Va., to Indianapolis.
Here is a closer look at NASDA and why McKinney is excited to be involved.
Makeup of NASDA. McKinney stresses that NASDA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of departments of agriculture in all 50 states and four U.S. territories.
“The Republican and Democrat tags often disappear when our members work with each other to reach common goals,” McKinney says.
MAN BEHIND THE SCENES: Ted McKinney, a native Hoosier, now occupies a leadership role with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Policy development. NASDA is nonpartisan, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t play a key role in ag policy. McKinney oversees a staff of about 20 employees at NASDA’s home office, and several monitor, assist and delve into policy development.
“We are the bridge between states and the federal government in many ways,” McKinney says. “Policy is one area where we serve farmers. We represent the interests of U.S. agriculture at various levels where farmers may not be involved.”
For example, NASDA hosted the 30th annual Tri-National Agricultural Accord in late October. NASDA members gather with their state and provincial counterparts from Mexico and Canada. McKinney says there were keen discussions about such topics as Canada’s living up to its obligations related to dairy in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement forged last year. At the same time, the Mexican government’s perceived opposition to GMOs and other technology was discussed.
Trade. NASDA’s team includes several employees who focus on trade. “This is one of the strengths I bring because of my experience traveling the globe and dealing with issues related to international trade,” McKinney says.
He notes that through NASDA, there is another opportunity for agriculture to have a say in trade issues. “Whether it’s the European Union opposing GMOs or other countries raising obstacles to trade, we monitor what’s happening and assist where we can,” he says.
Federal partnerships. NASDA partners with multiple federal agencies. McKinney points to two key examples. “Crop reports are issued by USDA, but the 3,000 enumerators who visit fields all over the country are NASDA employees,” he explains. “Also, our members play a key role in carrying out the Food Safety Modernization Act. It falls under the jurisdiction of FDA, but regulation and enforcement is carried out in most states by NASDA members.”
Perhaps NASDA’s most important over-arching role is to represent grassroots agriculture at the national level, many times without farmers realizing what happens behind the scenes, McKinney concludes.